Seige Theory

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April 9, 2013 by lucieromarin

Pentimento got it right! I discovered this post some time ago, and have been thinking about these lines ever since:

I discovered the beauty of the Traditional Latin Mass, and also the painful sort of group neurosis that seems to afflict many of its adherents — the combination of a siege mentality with a kind of gnosis demonstrated in the belief that they are the keepers of true knowledge and that the majority of Catholics are either stupid or damned, or both.

I had to laugh within myself, because I knew exactly what she meant. Then it occurred to me that the same lines could be applied to at least one other subculture in the Church (‘There Is Only One Way to Save the Unborn and that is OUR WAY’), while, at the same time, some other groups, just as exclusivist as the trads, have a completely different set of problems. Why? I thought it might be useful to consider how this seige mentality and this ‘gnosis’ comes about, if, for no other reason, than that the better you understand someone, the easier it is to know how to deal with him.

So! First, the seige mentality. What causes it?

1) Reality. Sometimes, the feeling that everyone is against you comes about because you discover that – well, everyone is against you. I remember going to a priest for pastoral care; he asked me where I went to Mass, and when I told him, he spoke non-stop for an entire hour about how much he hated us. He concluded with, “Don’t get me started!” “I didn’t,” I said. “I came here to ask you for help. I never said anything about the Mass. I’m not the one who just spent an hour talking about it.” To his credit, he apologised, and went on to give me much-needed advice, for which I remain grateful. On another occasion, I was introduced to a young(ish) woman, who, early in the conversation, asked me where I went to Mass. I told her. She froze. She stiffened, lifted her chin, and said, “Oh. I’ve heard there’s a lot of intellectual pride there.” Who knew that it was okay to bad-mouth a woman’s parish to her, moments after you’ve been introduced to her?

The good news? As the reality changes, so too will the people. (Mostly. Unless they find something else by which to feel threatened!).

2) Making a virtue of being a misfit. Crazy people are everywhere, but you’ll notice that trad communities and certain pro-life groups seem to attract a disproportionately high number of such persons. Cast your eye around an Opus Dei function – why aren’t there any victim souls, visionaries or gnomes in that sea of suits and scarves?

One group expects its members to be noticed and hated; the other group expects its members to be, to some extent, invisible. One group makes a virtue of non-conformity with the world; the other group makes a virtue of a certain conformity with it. The preference for non-conformity, and the expectation of being noticed and judged, is a boon to those persons who are genuine misfits – either because of inadequately treated illness, or because of some acquired deformity of character – because they’re already used to being noticed and judged. But now, at last, they can attribute that uncomfortable awareness of not fitting in to something other than a problem within themselves. So they stay. And talk to visitors. And make the rest of us want to crawl under rocks burning with embarassment.

The good news? A slight change in preaching-styles would be enough to change this. The less we hear, “Them and Us. This proves They’re bad,” the less we can use it as an excuse for avoiding hard truths about ourselves.

3) Making a virtue of denunciation. This, again, is absolutely not restricted to the trad subculture, but it’s also not common to all subcultures.

See, if you’re going to deal with issues related to life and family, or to modern theology, or schooling, or the media, you’re going to find Wrong Stuff. And, at some point, you’re probably going to have to say something about it. The problem has not to do with the ability to Point and Say – the problem has to do with the inability to do anything else. Where a subculture treats denunciation as a routine, positive and virtuous act, rather than as an occasionally-necessary act particular to certain times and authoritative persons…well, that’s when you end up with a young woman unsettling Sunday afternoon pizza by suddenly exclaiming, “What would you people have to talk about, if you didn’t have the Novus Ordo to complain about?”

The good news? The solution is simple, and natural, and well-underway already. People just need to love something normal; something other than the state of the Church and their ideas about how to fix it. Some of my best friends in the world are my best friends, not just because we can talk about chant, but because we can talk about sci-fi television. (I don’t know if this exists overseas, but, in Australia, there exists amongst trads something nicknamed ‘The Buffy Underground.’  Yes, I realise that this paragraph implies that sci-fi is normal; just be glad I didn’t write ‘crochet.’ You can think of sport if you want to.)

4) Force of habit. Sometimes, after spending years feeling threatened or judged, (and, it must be said, after years spent judging and denouncing) people just forget to move on. It’s that simple. People forget that it’s okay to notice good things, and to start trusting people outside the one group that was willing to take you in.

The good news? I think this is another problem that could just go away by itself. The reality is that there is a lot more movement between subcultures now than there was twenty years ago, and this movement is often recognised as a good thing. Nothing ends a seige like people wandering in and out of the front door!

5) Immaturity. Some of the most seigey gnostics I had to deal with in my twenties all suddenly grew up, married women who wore jeans and didn’t cover their heads, and became mushy and cooing fathers. Others left the Latin Mass. Others left the Church.

The lesson here? Don’t take over-earnest young men seriously, don’t feel you have to argue with them (unless you can see they’re doing real harm to somebody), and don’t think they represent some sort of immutable traditionalist awfulness. All they are is young, and most of them will do one of three things: a) get bored and leave, b) grow up, and mellow, c) get annoyed with all the mellowing people, and leave.


Now, the ‘gnosis.’ This is an important point, and I’ve split it into two, just so I can make clear how important it is.

1) The early years of the trad movement (here, at least) were characterised by ‘single’ people; I don’t just mean unmarried people, but people who were the only one of something in their lives – the only Catholic in their families, the only trad in their former parish, the only priest still wearing the clerical collar in their religious communities, and so on. This means that many people were suffering the after-effects of actual grief, loneliness or trauma (think of the elderly priest whose community punished him for his choice of clerical dress by locking him out of his religious house, knowing full well that this made him immediately homeless).

Such individuals, banding together against the persons they blame for isolating them, are not going to have the same group mentality as one united in a spirit of hope, or gratitude, or in the knowledge of being popular, protected, or valued.

2) They’re also going to be in the habit forming their religious opinions in isolation. Becoming a group doesn’t change that habit. This is the great difference between this movement and other formal organisations in the Church – it has no, single, identifiable founder, and, therefore, no single source of mission or opinion. Other groups, capable of forming just as strict an enclave as the trads, don’t appear to suffer from that same ‘gnosticism’, because their members take their thoughts from their founders.

Of course there’s leadership within the traditionalist movement, and trads reference the writings of Popes and saints and so on; but – well, think about it. Imagine you were building a website for the traditionalist movement, and you wanted to make it resemble the websites of other movements in the Church. What would you put under the heading, ‘Our Founder’s Writings?’

This does have its advantages; I don’t think I’d enjoy belonging to a group that could order me never to read books by priests other than those by Father Founder. It saves individuals from submitting to what they may later discover to be a personality cult. It means that none of us have given over our entire incomes to somebody else, or, worse, eschewed the right to work outside the group.

Unfortunately, it also means that a lot of people have copped a lot of unnecessary ear-bashings about matters ecclesial!

Well, we’re not in one big happy family yet, but I think there’s hope on all sides. This reminds me of something funny; it happened at a party a few years ago, and would never have happened in the eighties:

Guy: So, how long have you been going to Mass there?

Me: About seventeen years.

Guy: Oh, wow! So you were going there before it was popular.

Me: It’s popular!? Oh my gosh!!! I have to message Father and tell him this!!!!

Who ever saw that coming?

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